The Gem and the Robe

“It’s your mind that creates the world.” ~ Buddha

In Buddhism we base our faith upon something called “actual proof.”  In other words, there is no such thing as blind faith — or the belief in something that offers no proof it actually works.  We are certain that we will see changes and benefits when we practice.  Sometimes those benefits are conspicuous — like a job or a relationship or a change in our attitude — but more often than not, the benefits we experience are inconspicuous.  They are invisible and subtle.  They accumulate slowly.  They are not necessarily what we expect.

I started my 28th year of Buddhist practice this month, now having practiced more than half of my life.  And my life has changed in both visible and invisible ways over that period of time.  This month I thought a lot about that young woman — the stunted girl I was when I started — so full of fear and self-hatred and self-doubt. I cannot believe my unbelievable fortune to have encountered Buddhism when I did.  I think about how lost I was. How bereft. How hopeless. Knowing where I was when I began — waiting tables in New York City, making maybe, $5K a year, eating beans and ramen and not much else — it’s clear how much everything has changed.

There’s a Buddhist parable called The Gem and the Robe that I love.  In a nutshell, it is a story of a person wandering the countryside, destitute, hungry and hopeless, all the while possessing a jewel of incalculable value sewn into the lining of his (or her) robe.  It illustrates the concept of human suffering despite possession of a diamond-like Buddha nature.  While we are unconscious and unaware of this jewel, we suffer thinking we do not have the capacity for enlightenment.  When we realize we have always possessed the gem — it has been with us throughout eternity — we finally gain entry to Buddha Land.  We enter the treasure tower of enlightenment where we are empowered to change our circumstances for the better and positively impact the world around us.  The Gem and the Robe deftly illustrates how blind we can be to the beauty and breath-taking power of our own existence.  We suffer because we delude ourselves with false imaginings.  We believe in things that are not real, while at the same time rejecting the idea that we possess a glimmering jewel at the center of our lives.

Perception equals reality.  

If you believe the world is a horrible place where nothing works out, that will be your experience.  If you believe that people are hostile, evil, wrong, misinformed or insane, that will be your experience.  Our inner life state is reflected perfectly in the outer world.  If we are in hell, we attract other hellish people.  Happy people are rarely surrounded by hellions, idiots, or wrathful dachinis (Hindu entities who feed on painful, raw negativity).  Those who enjoy life typically find themselves with others who do so as well.  Like attracts like.   So, complainers constantly find themselves in a pickle with others who love to bitch.  People who bathe in sadness attract others who reflect their darkness and tears right back at them.  For years, I didn’t understand this.  I kept up my practice, all the while wondering, “What the hell is wrong with me?  Why am I such a loser?  Why can’t I break through?”  I didn’t realize I was trapped in a hell of my own thinking.  I didn’t realize that in order for things in my life to change, I needed to change.

The thing is, struggle and suffering are part of life.  But even suffering, even hell, even anger can be catalysts for change.  We can be inspired to take a leap of faith and to see through new eyes any time.  Nothing external needs to change for us to be happy.  All that needs to happen is for us to realize that we can be happy no matter what is happening. Problems are not an indicator something is wrong with us. Problems are inherent in life. Problems are part of the gig. Resisting them, or feeling that we have been singled out to suffer when no one else has to, is the false, deluded, stinking thinking.  All it causes is more suffering.

One Buddhist sutra notes that when an unenlightened man sees the Ganges river, he sees a filthy, polluted waterway.  Yet, when the Buddha looked at the same thing, he saw “amrita” or the water of the Gods.  Both were looking at the same thing.  One from the perspective of delusion; one from the perspective of enlightenment.  When we master our minds, the whole world changes.

So, the environment we see now is the result of  the karma, causes, and perceptions of people living today.  If that is the case, we can change it.  We can choose to see the Buddha nature in others. We can bow to the enlightenment and wisdom of plants and animals and children. We can recognize that we must focus on what we want and what we need, not what we don’t want or what we fear or what we reject.  If we can do that — simply turn our attention to what we want to see happen, we will finally be able walk away from all the razzmatazz and negativity and resistance that crowds our lives.

© 2012  Shavawn M. Berry  All rights reserved

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